Whatever genres and prefixes you pair up to label Bent Knee’s music will hint at its uniqueness, but fall short of encapsulating the dynamic sound the ensemble has conjured up for Shiny Eyed Babies. But to avoid being dramatically enigmatic, let’s go with symphonic avant-indie epic art-rock. See where the power and the problem lies?
“The writing on this record was a new direction for the band as everything was collaboratively written,” says Bent Knee violinist Chris Baum, sitting across from bandmates Courtney Swain (vocals, keys) and Vince Welch (producer, sound design) in the Dig’s conference room. “The key was that everything had to be completely agreed upon. It wasn’t majority ruled—it was all or nothing.”
While this technique may not sound all too contentious, it is when each member of the Berklee-bred sextet has completely different tastes in music. Choosing a playlist to listen to while touring in their minivan becomes an exercise in futile debate when Swain’s voting for Queens of the Stone Age or Tokyo Jihen, drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth is pushing for esoteric ’70s rock, and Baum would be pleased with contemporary classical fringe artists. And that’s only the preferences of half the band. With a laugh, Swain says,“There’s always one or two people in the back with their headphones on.”
Not everyone can be sonically satisfied during pre- or post-show drives, but when it comes to their own work, no labor was spared to ensure that Baum, Swain, Wallace-Ailsworth, and Welch, along with Ben Levin (guitar) and Jessica Kion (bass), were in agreement. This proved doubly challenging—and ultimately rewarding—as Bent Knee consistently looks to avoid stereotypes and genre pitfalls, or treading the same water twice.
Swain begins to offer an example, “The end of ‘I’m Still Here’ used to be this really big…”
Welch picks up as she pauses: “…heavy hard rock guitar solo…”
“Yeah!” Swain chirps in agreement. “This stereotypical crying guitar solo. So over-the-top. We decided to take a more sincere approach. Now on the album, it has this great unique string arrangement that Ben wrote that brings out the same emotion, but in a more candid way.”
That sincere, candid, genre-defying approach is what will have you desperately searching for better descriptors, because Shiny Eyed Babies demands to be talked about.